Many collectors favor the kitschy handpainted ceramic items produced in Japan during the early part of the last century. Most are marked either Nippon, Japan, Made in Japan or Occupied Japan. There are so many specialized subsections to Made in Japan collecting that it is hard to name them all. Some include human figurines (such as the ones pictured above,) or animals–horses, dogs, cats, rabbits, birds and other wild animals, salt and pepper sets, match holders, ashtrays, planters, vases, wall pockets, and candle holders. Vases shaped like ladies’ heads complete with fancy hats and jewelry are sought after and can command big prices.
Another popular area for collectors is all things for the table: plates, cups, sake and tea sets and rice bowls, especially dishes with luster painting. Tableware was the first export from Japan after trade was opened with the West in the 1850s. Noritake is a big name in this area of production. I have carried all these ceramics and more in my online stores over the years, with great success.
Some pieces are very well done, others were fired and painted rapidly with an eye to production over quality. In general, earlier work is better quality. Industrialization and the advent of the production line led to a drop in quality.
The figurines are of a Georgian couple, probably courting, and are of midling quality with some nice detail, but very quickly painted. The condition is excellent, no damage at all. They are marked Made in Japan with a red stamp.
Items from Japan were not always marked, especially prior to 1891. In that year the US required all imports to be marked in English with the country of origin. From 1891 to 1921 the word Nippon was usually placed on pieces. After 1921 until 1941 the word Japan was instituted in place of Nippon.
During the war years, 1941-1945, an embargo was in effect on Japanese imports. By 1947, imports were making their way west again and were marked Occupied Japan. This labeling was in use until as late as 1952. After that time the Occupied was dropped. Paper labels came more into use. Since paper and foil labels are more easily lost, import pieces from that time are often not marked. Sometimes a practiced eye can spot an unmarked Made in Japan piece based on quality and form. The import of inexpensive Japanese ceramics continued into the 1960s then began to shift to items made in Taiwan. After that, made in China became the norm. This is one big reason collectibles made in Japan are popular, they are no longer manufactured.
The nostalgia of Made in Japan ceramics also drives the market. A popular collectible is a series of small figurines shamelessly based on Hummels and called American Children. Much of the Japanese work imitated favored established Western forms, such as the figurines above that mimic European work. Certain companies, most notably Otagiri and Takahashi, operated as importers of higher-quality Japanese ceramics well into the 1990s. Both these companies were based in San Francisco and provided fine work from various Japanese sources to upscale department stores.
Here are a few more of the Made in Japan offerings currently in my online stores: